10 Great Things To Do In Madison This Fall

It’s not just the crisp air or the hum of students back on campus. In fall, Madison, Wisconsin shines with favorite festivals and other events.

Every college town awakens from summer slumber in the fall, but Madison—home to the University of Wisconsin's flagship campus—has the heft of a capital too. The city buzzes with cultural events, plus bars and cafes along pedestrian-friendly State Street. An eclectic mix of cuisine includes spots like Taco Local and Hone (try the budae jjigae, a spicy Korean stew). If you haven't visited Madison lately (or ever), here are our 10 top reasons to come now.

Taste of Madison Wisconsin
Taste of Madison. FOCAL FLAME PHOTOGRAPHY

1. Savor the Taste of Madison Festival

With fiery curries and fried plantains, Taste of Madison (September 2-3, 2023) offers a bite of the world—and of the Midwest. (Yes, fried cheese curds are included.) The festival has returned to its traditional location in Capitol Square after a temporary move to Breese Stevens Field. The free event offers access to 80 different food vendors, plus live music and entertainment.

Reflection by Jen Fuller, Gleam at Olbrich Botanical Gardens
Reflection by Jen Fuller, Gleam at Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Courtesy of Shanna Wolf Photography

2. Be Dazzled by Outdoor Art

The outdoor art exhibit Gleam highlights large-scale light installations by local, regional and international designers. See them on a stroll through Olbrich Botanical Garden's 16 acres as well as tropical Bolz Conservatory. August 26-October 28, 2023 on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

3. Catch a Show at Overture Center

Overture Center for the Arts' fall calendar overflows with comedy, music and dance events. Fall 2023 productions include Dixie's Tupperware Party, American Rhapsody, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse Live in Concert. Designed by renowned architect César Pelli, the building itself is a work of art, spanning an entire city block and also housing the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

Taliesin
Taliesin, Spring Green, Wisconsin. Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux

4. Tour Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin

A collection of Frank Lloyd Wright masterpieces, a sprawling 800-acre estate in the Driftless Region and fall color? Talk about a perfect day trip an easy 40-mile drive west of Madison. Join one of Taliesin's public estate tours offered daily through October 31 and on weekends through the end of November.

5. Celebrate Human Strength at Ironman Wisconsin

Ironman Wisconsin (September 10, 2023) lures more than 2,500 of the world's toughest athletes to Dane County each year, along with thousands of spectators who watch the race as it winds around the waterfront at Monona Terrace and loops through downtown—a prime spot to cheer on the athletes from the comfort of a patio chair with a frosty beverage.

Wisconsin Badgers Game
Wisconsin Badgers Game. Focal Flame Photography

6. Cheer on the Badgers

Wisconsin Badgers football brings the crowds to Camp Randall Stadium from September through November. Can't score tickets to see the Big Ten powerhouse on the field? Belly up to one of the bars showing the game. You'll be in good company when it's time to "Jump Around" to House of Pain at the end of the third quarter.

7. Toast to Oktoberfest

Just 25 miles west of Madison, New Glarus, which calls itself America's Little Switzerland, celebrates its Swiss-German heritage each year with Oktoberfest (September 21-24, 2023). Expect live music, wagon rides and chainsaw carving, plus of course food and local beer.

Dane County Farmers' Market
Dane County Farmers' Market. FOCAL FLAME PHOTOGRAPHY

8. Feast at the Farmers' Market

The Dane County Farmers' Market is the largest producer-only market in the nation, with more than 160 vendors every Saturday (through November 11), looped around the domed statehouse. In fall, enjoy seasonal goodies like tomatoes and squash, or shop from local soap-makers and crafters. Don't miss Stella's hot cheese bread.

9. Experience the World Dairy Expo

This bovine-centric trade show, which also includes national 4-H contests, returns to the Alliant Energy Center October 1-6, 2023. You don't have to be a dairy industry professional to enjoy the food and cattle show and learn more about the state's big claim to fame.

10. Take in Fall Color From the Water

Rent a kayak, canoe, stand-up paddleboard or pontoon from Madison Boats to explore urban lakes and enjoy a distinct view of the autumnal color palette. (Pro tip: Check Travel Wisconsin's Fall Color Report to see if your travel dates align with the most vibrant foliage of the season.) Gear rentals typically are available through the end of September.

Where to Stay

Madison's newer and updated hotels are more than convenient crash pads. Modern, stylish Avid Hotel Madison-Monona offers comfortable rooms near the shores of Lake Monona. For downtown digs, book a room at Hilton Garden Inn Madison Downtown near the University of Wisconsin campus—perfect for catching a Badgers game (if you can snag a game-day reservation). Graduate Madison celebrates vintage Wisco decor one block off the UW-Madison campus. The downtown Hilton Madison Monona Terrace recently completed major renovations to its guest rooms and lobby, and Sheraton Madison Hotel wrapped up a $15 million renovation project to spruce up guest rooms near the Alliant Energy Center.

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